Questions about Mason all people of Northeast Ohio must ask of Mason, Campbell, Hagan, Jones, Strickland, Brown, Jackson...

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 09/17/2010 - 10:32.

Important guest editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today asking questions about Mason all people of Northeast Ohio must ask of Mason, Campbell, Hagan, Jones, Strickland, Brown, Jackson, all Cleveland Council people, all local mainstream media agents, so many other "community leaders" and themselves...

Bill Mason, the 800-pound gorilla: David Barnhizer

Published: Friday, September 17, 2010, 3:00 AM

By David Barnhizer

In the midst of the Cuyahoga County corruption scandals, there is an unasked question about the county's "800-pound gorilla," Bill Mason. The prosecutions and investigations in this and other cases have been done by federal authorities rather than by the office of Mason, Cuyahoga County's prosecutor. The question is why the chief law enforcement officer in the county, with a staff that is wired in to virtually all the local political machinery, as revealed in a recent Plain Dealer article, was unaware of or chose to ignore the cesspool of corruption, bribery, kickbacks and special deals for friends and contributors that has been Cuyahoga County.

Given Mason's amazing political reach and obvious sophistication, it is difficult to accept any claim that he was unaware of the corruption. The investigative power of a prosecutor is also substantial, as is the ability to use the grand jury as a device to uncover wrongdoing.

As we have seen, the culture was not simply a crooked auditor such as Frank Russo, but a comprehensive and ongoing scheme that had gone on for at least 10 years and spread throughout the entire system -- one in which Mason stands as the primary legal officer and prosecuting authority with enormous discretion and power. Yet if the federal authorities had not acted, there is absolutely no reason to believe that any of the disgusting criminal activity would have been revealed or prosecuted under Mason's watch.

The conclusions that could be drawn from this situation are several. The kindest is that Mason is incompetent due to his being entirely unaware of the pervasive rot that had spread throughout the public offices of Cuyahoga County. This, however, is difficult to accept, given Mason's political contacts, sophistication and undeniable leadership role in the county's political system. If incompetence is not the answer, then we, unfortunately, move to other possibilities, including that Mason was aware of the wrongdoing but chose to look the other way under some twisted concept of party loyalty or the idea that what was occurring was acceptable political patronage rather than criminal activity.

A third possibility is that Mason was a knowing part of this system and both distributed and received benefits from it in the way of other participants. Certainly there are some indications of questionable deals. These include the special employment arrangement given campaign contributor Michael Climaco, a significant reduction in the taxable base for Mason's residence and the lucrative contract given Peter Szigeti, who was not only a Mason employee but was awarded consultant payments of more than $1.1 million, contributed to Mason's campaign war chest and designed his political website.

There are legitimate questions to be asked and the only way to ask them with any force is to employ a special prosecutor to investigate and determine whether Mason ignored evidence of widespread criminal wrongdoing under his watch or even participated in the culture of corruption. It seems likely that the federal authorities might be asking these questions, but unless Mason is secretly cooperating with the feds and his beneficial contributions to that investigation will be explained at the end of the process, he appears to be cloaked with a Teflon shield that is insulating him from serious consequences.

Barnhizer is an emeritus professor of law at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University.

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